When it was over she stood in the crowded street and listened to the dense murmur of all those people speaking. She heard the first distant blurt of car horns on the avenue. People studied each other to match reactions. She watched them search the street for faces, signs that so-and-so was safe. She realized the street lights were on and tried to recall how long her flat had been dark. Everyone was talking. She heard the same phrases repeated and stood with her arms crossed on her chest, watching a woman carry a chair to a suitable spot. The sound of blowing horns drifted through the streets. People leaving the city in radial streams. Already she was thinking ahead to the next one. There’s always supposed to be another, possibly many more. The card-players stood outside the café, some of them inspecting a chunk of fallen masonry on the sidewalk, others looking towards the roof. Here and there a jutting face, a body slowly turning, searching. She wore what she’d been wearing when it started, jeans and shirt and light sweater, and it was night and winter, and funny-looking moccasins she only wore indoors. The horns grew louder in a kind of cry, an animal awe. The panic god is Greek after all. She thought about it again and wasn’t sure the lights had been out at all. Women stood with arms folded in the cold. She walked along the middle of the street, listening to the voices, translating phrases to herself. It was the same for everyone. They said the same things and searched for faces. The streets were narrow here and people sat in parked cars, smoking. Here and there a child running, hand-shuffling through the crowd, excited children out near midnight. She thought there might be a glow in the sky and climbed a broad stepped street that had a vantage towards the gulf. She seemed to recall reading there’s sometimes a light in the sky just before it happens or just after. This came under the heading of unexplained.
After a while they started going back inside. Kyle walked for three hours. She watched the cars push into major avenues that led to the mountains and the coast. Traffic lights were dark in certain areas. The long lines of cars knotted and bent, made scant gains forward. Paralysis. She thought the scene resembled some landscape in the dreaming part of us, what the city teaches us to fear. They were pressing on the horns. The noise spread along the streets and reached a final mass denial, a desolation. It subsided after a time, then began to build again. She saw people sleeping on benches and families collected in cars parked on sidewalks and median strips. She recalled all the things she’d ever heard about an earthquake.
In her district the streets were almost empty now. She went into her building and took the stairs to five. The lights were on in her flat, and there were broken pieces of terracotta (she only now remembered) scattered on the floor by the bookcase. Long cracks branched along the west wall. She changed into walking shoes, put on a padded ski jacket and turned off the lights except for a lamp by the door. Then she placed herself on the sofa between a sheet and blanket, her head resting on an airline pillow. She closed her eyes and folded up, elbows at her mid-section, hands pressed together between her knees. She tried to will herself to sleep but realized she was listening intently, listening to the room. She lay in a kind of timeless drift, a mindwork spiral, carried on half-formed thoughts. She passed into a false sleep and then was listening again. She opened her eyes. The clock read four-forty. She heard something that sounded like sand spilling, a trickle of gritty dust between the walls of abutting structures. The room began to move in a creaking sigh. Louder, powerfully. She was out of bed and on her way to the door, moving slightly crouched. She opened the door and stood under the lintel until the shaking stopped. She took the stairway down. No neighbours popping out of doors this time, bending arms into coats. The streets remained nearly empty and she guessed people didn’t want to bother doing it again. She wandered well past daybreak. A few campfires burned in the parks. The horn-blowing was sporadic now. She walked around her building a number of times, finally sitting on a bench near the newspaper kiosk. She watched people enter the street to begin the day and she looked for something in their faces that might tell her what kind of night they’d spent. She was afraid everything would appear to be normal. She hated to think that people might easily resume the knockabout routine of frazzled Athens. She didn’t want to be alone in her perception that something had basically changed. The world was narrowed down to inside and outside.